Letting Go with Kim Conley
In which Dr. Andy reflects on lessons to be learned from his former student and Olympian
My wife and kids don’t run much, so I would have to say that my favorite runner is Olympian Kim Conley, who is recuperating from injury and thus must sit out this year’s summer Olympics.
I got to teach Kim English 3: Introduction to Literature at UC Davis about a 20 years ago. Kim always sat along the westernmost wall of our Olson Hall classroom, she always participated when I asked students if they had questions (now I just say to my students, “Ask me questions”), and she always maintained focus on me and the class.
Perhaps once maintaining such focus in a college class would not seem noteworthy, but today, students and faculty alike swim in in a sea of distractions. The smartphone is the most prominent diversion, interrupting students with its notifications. Blessed is the student who remains unnotified. Wherever one is, the smartphone reminds us, something more interesting might be happening someplace else.
UC Davis students are such bright, accomplished, and engaging young people, so I would imagine that most of them want to spend most of their time with their peers. I felt that every day of college was an opportunity to build new connections, whether between neurons in my brain, between images in a poem, or between myself and a new friend. As I remember it, as a college student, I was always eager for new experiences, but also eager to be right where I was at any particular moment. Especially if I was with Kate.
I find it odd, then, to see groups of students sitting together in a restaurant or, before the pandemic, in the UC Davis Coffee House, and notice that they are all on their phones. I am tempted to interrupt their techno-reverie with the news that the joy they seek can be found in the eyes and the laughter of the friends that surround them. The entangling and teasing tedium is the trouble with Twitter. Life tops Facebook.
Such social media thrive by manufacturing desire, by implanting in us the longing for the thing we don’t yet have. The itching and distracting quest to become rich can actually make us poor. As Christopher Manske says in his book, The Prepared Investor, “When you buy a bigger house, another luxury car, or a fancy boat, you are showing people that you used to have money.”
I myself will likely not be a significant investor, prepared or otherwise. Rahter than thinking overmuch about finances, I prefer the perspective of one of my favorite Buddhist thinkers and authors, Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, which I have read perhaps three times since it was published. In that book, Chödrön says, “Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what's going on, but that there's something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.”
Kim Conley surely feels that sense of lack, that something is missing, as she watches her professional runner competitors at the Olympic trials as she herself recuperates. Knowing Kim as I do, however, I know that this experience will remind her what a blessed life of running, of play, and of mile after meditative mile she has been living.
Although Simone de Beauvoir famously said that “The body is the instrument of our hold on the world,” for Kim – ever focused, ever present, and ever a UC Davis Aggie – her body has also been an instrument of freedom, of letting go. For that, and for her accomplishments on and off the Olympic track, Kim Conley remains my hero.
Be well, and thank for reading.
P.S. Here are three questions from last week’s trivia contest (Drop me a note if you ever need answers):
U.S. Presidents. Both found in the second half of the calendar, two months are tied as the birth-months of the most U.S. presidents, including Carter and Biden. Name just one of these months in which six presidents each were born.
Pop Culture – Music. Released in 1985, Brothers in Arms was the first album to sell more than a million copies on compact disk. Name the band, now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Sports. The man named the best Portuguese player of all time by the Portuguese Football Federation is the first soccer player, AKA footballer, to have earned a billion dollars over the course of his career. Who is this man who was named the world's most charitable sportsperson in 2015?
P.P.S. One more gem from Simone de Beauvoir: “One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others.”